Well, we had a great time at the observatory this weekend. As usual I struggled with deciding to go to bed early, or bucking up and going out to the observatory. We arrived on Friday night around 8:30, a little after dark. Heading off the road and up through the rows of tall corn, we wonder who may be joining us for the night. Always aware of the fact that we tend to leave early (and ruin people’s night vision with our headlights) we pick a space near the exit path in order to make a clean getaway later in the evening.
It’s already dark so the other arrivals have already started their observing session. The silhouettes identified only by the sound of their voices. Some are simply looking through their telescopes and some are doing some astrophotography. We give everyone a quick warning that our lights are about to come on, then we start unloading. Even though we tend to travel light, we still have quite a bit to unpack. I spread out the blanket like we’re about to have a picnic then spread out the evening fare.
I use one of those old tri-fold lawn chairs, the kind that unless you’re careful you’ll get swallowed up into. I’ve seen more than one person get folded up into one of these, a fate I’ve been lucky to have been spared. Next to the chair sits my duffel bag, holding everything I need for the evening. My star charts are too big for the bag, so the book goes on the hood of Lynn’s car. A quick test of the red flashlight and we’re ready to go!
I looked around at the constellations that were up. At the zenith we had Cygnus and Lyra, Sagittarius, the big teapot, was in the southern sky, heading towards the horizon. Facing west we had Ophiuchus and Hercules and the top of Bootes. In the north, the Big Dipper sat just above the horizon, laying like a ladle had been set on the counter. The lovely Cassiopeia was sitting in the northwest, with Andromeda nearby.
So many possibilities! I decided to concentrate on Hercules, but where to start? Hmm, M13 and M90, both of which are on the ‘easy’ messier binocular list, sounds like a good place to start. M13 is a pretty easy find, using the bright stars of Hercules as guide stars. It was a pretty little fuzz ball, darker in the middle, and slightly diffuse on the edges. Nice! Next – M90. This one is a little harder to find, there isn’t much with it in the field of view. It too is a small fuzz ball, a little smaller than M13, but still a pretty find.
I decide to venture down to the observatory to see what the big scope has to share. The operator had found a beautiful nebula – M17 the swan! It was breathtaking! http://www.nightskyatlas.com/messier.jsp.
On my way back to our little observing site, I stopped to take a look at Neptune through a 14 inch dobsonian. The blue disc was a rare and beautiful sight.
The rest of the evening I played with the star atlas software on my Kindle. I was having a bit of trouble with it, getting objects to center being able to zoom in to the same field of view as my binoculars. Maybe some advanced preparation would have been a good idea!
All in all, it was a good observing session, and I’m very glad that instead of snuggling under my blanket at home, I decided to hang out at the observatory under a blanket of stars!